With the change in rules for teams playing in the Champions League -- that is the top four teams from the top four Associations of UEFA, according to the coefficient rankings (currently these teams are Spain, Germany, England and Italy), will get direct entry into the group stages -- the big clubs all around Europe are finally at peace.
There is now more opportunity to participate in the showpiece tournament of UEFA as well as more incentive to invest in the top players and managers. So, with an extra berth in the Champions League assured, the only thing that can upset the "top six" (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, the Manchester clubs and Spurs) is an unexpected challenge from, presumably, the smaller clubs (who nowadays spend over a 100 million pounds in the transfer market) as was recently done by Leicester.
The Champions League acts as a major attraction as well as a strong incentive for clubs to recruit the best in the business and the "top six" do have a very strong stranglehold on the competition. However, with much more money coming into the premier league along with some shrewd business deals there is a fighting chance that someone can upset the status quo, or at the very least qualify for the Europa League, in the upcoming season. With four Gameweeks gone the signs are looking quite ominous.
Let us take a look at the five clubs capable of pulling off an upset this season.
For a long time now, Everton have remained as possibly the biggest threat to the top six. Remember last year when Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Cenk Tosun, Idrissa Gueye and Oumar Niasse could do everything but score a goal. In 38 Premier League matches, Everton could only manage to score 44 goals while they conceded 58 and could have certainly finished well below the 8th place finish had one or two results gone the other way. Their top goalscorer was Rooney who scored a paltry 10 goals.
However, that seems a thing of the past now as the new summer recruits Richarlison (Watford), Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes and Lucas Digne (Barcelona) and Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk) have added much-needed teeth and firepower to the frontline. In the first 4 games, the Toffees have managed to find the back of the net 7 times with Richarlison contributing the most with 3 goals. Tosun is also displaying glimpses of why he was one of the most sought-after talents last summer as he already has 2 assists to his name.
Kurt Zouma's presence and influence in the backline is easily visible as the other half of the Merseyside are yet to taste defeat in the league this season. Add to all this the technical genius of none other than Marco Silva and Everton stock suddenly becomes a hot potato in the Premier League business.
The only area of concern for the toffees is the form of Pickford, as he has already let in six goals already and it will be absolutely vital for him to regain his form if he wants to assert his authority as the best goalkeeper in England.
7th (W1, D3, L0)
The team which has come on leaps and bounds this season is Bournemouth. With Callum Wilson coming to the party, the Cherries have now found another goal threat to add to the likes of Joshua King and Steve Cook. Although many players in the squad are guilty of missing some gilt-edged chances they still managed to score an impressive 6 goals already this season.
Under Eddie Howe, Bournemouth has played a free-flowing style of football and have rarely sat back deep and the effect of this is quite visible as they conceded 5 goals despite the presence of ex-Chelsea duo of Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic.
With the new big signing of Jefferson Lerma (Levante) being eased into the Premier League, one can expect of the Cherries to only to get better. The major positive for the Bournemouth supporters is that they have managed to hold on to their core group of players - Benik Afobe (Wolves) was the only notable departure this summer.
If a couple of players take charge by scoring in double digits this season and thereby provide their backline a cushion to defend then the Boys of Boscombe will be a major threat this season.
Despite the impressive form of Begovic, the major concern for the Cherries is that their backline is far-too-often exposed and it could be a major problem if they look forward to playing in Europe next season.
6th (W2, D1, L1)
When you have Rafa Benitez in your ranks, you are never too far from the top. However, the master tactician, who has a net spend of only 1 million pounds in the last two seasons combined, has made the Toons a formidable outfit, as was evident by their 10th placed finish last season (that is something only he could do).
The most astonishing aspect was that the club actually made upwards of 11 million pounds this transfer window with Yoshinori Muto (Mainz), Fabian Schar (Deportivo La Coruna) and Martin Dubravka (Sparta Praha) coming in.
Their current shambolic state would come as a no surprise to many but then everyone knows it takes time for a team on a very tight budget to get going. The upcoming international break should provide Benitez a welcome break from their current misfortune and build on some much-needed team chemistry.
Joselu, Yendlin, Shelvey, Lascelles, and Murphy have looked good at times but are yet to become a well-oiled machine that they managed to achieve towards the latter part of the season. The Toonians know that their club has a habit of picking up the pace as the season progress and they will be hoping that the men in black and white stripes could pull the trigger once again.
The bigger concern for Newcastle is their (or rather a lack of) transfer activity. They have already sold their biggest goal threat in Mitrovic and now have to find new ways in the attack as they will be without their efficient target man. With Mike Ashley in talks of selling the club, most fans will be praying that it happens sooner than later as no one wants to let go of their biggest asset: Rafael Benitez.
18th (W0, D1, L3)
By far the biggest improvement this season has been seen in the form of the Hornets. They are only one of the three teams left with a perfect record (Chelsea and Liverpool being the other two) and sit an impressive third with only two goals separating them from the top of the table.
Javi Gracia's team has been a sort of revelation this season and the hard work of the manager is clearly evident on the pitch. Roberto Pereyra is easily the find of the new season and has already caught the attention of teams around Europe. He has already netted three times and has eased out the blow of losing their last season wonderboy Richarlison (Everton). Jose Holebas currently leads the chart for the most number of assists along with Benjamin Mendy (Man City).
Along with Janmaat, Kababsele, and Cathcart, their defensive line looks as solid as anyone in the league. Ben Foster (West Brom) has hardly been troubled so far and has added a much needed defensive calmness in place of Gomes.
Gerard Deuolefeu (Barcelona) also looks like a bright prospect and will add character as soon as he gets fit. Up front, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray have looked in imperious touch and are a major concern for the opposite teams on set plays.
An area on which Gracia would like to work on during this break will be defensive solidity in the midfield as the Hornets were under a lot of pressure by the high press of the Spurs. Other than that this might be the season for the people in Vicarage Road.
3rd (W4, D0, L0)
The team which pipped Everton for the last European seat last summer has endured a difficult start this term and have managed to earn merely a single point in their opening four fixtures. However, this was very much on the cards as the Clarets were very much in uncharted territories given their European exploits.
Remember that this is the same club that got relegated only three years back. But with a sad ending to their European dreams, Sean Dyche's men can very well re-align their focus onto the Premier League and with no more trips to Scotland and Greece, their players will be as fresh as they have ever been.
One of the first targets for Sean Dyche will be to make the Turf Moor an impregnable fortress once again and with Mee and Tarkowski normal proceedings are likely to proceed soon. In recent weeks, Chris Wood has been a menace for the opposition's defence and with Vokes and Barnes coming off the bench the Clarets remain a threat as the Fergie time plays on. Jeff Hendrick and Ashley Westwood along with Gudmundsson provide stability as well as an attacking threat in the midfield.
The biggest area of concern for Burnley will be their wing backs as they have regularly been found wanting on the defensive end. With Gibson waiting on the sidelines, Lowton and Bardsley have an uphill task waiting. Though one can expect Sean Dyche to find a way around these defensive frailties and make a push for top half of the table once the international break gets over.
19th (W0, D1, L3)